7 Steps You Shouldn’t Skip When Evaluating Colocation Providers

servers in colocation data center

Choosing a colocation provider is often a long and grueling process that should involve not only the IT department, but also cybersecurity, finance, executives, and the facilities team, if the company has one. Every team that will be affected by a company’s data center decision should have a say in the process. This will result in the best decision in the long run. Once a company closes a contract with a data center provider, they are often committed to three to five years. Here are seven key steps in selecting the right colocation provider for your business derived from Gartner’s framework.

1. Identify Long-Term Infrastructure Goals

Before beginning the search for a colocation provider, companies should first understand their long-term infrastructure strategy and evaluate their infrastructure portfolio and timeline. To understand the company’s long-term strategy, teams should identify their infrastructure objectives for the organization. These objectives are usually some version of one or more of the following:

  • To improve availability for users
  • To improve options for connectivity
  • To have a back-up or secondary location in the event of a disaster
  • To exit the data center business, reduce CapEx and focus resources on core competencies

With the company’s main goals in mind, your team can begin developing your initial list of requirements for potential providers.

2. Decide between Carrier-Neutral and Carrier-Centric

Many colocation facilities these days are carrier-neutral. Carrier-neutral data centers offer a marketplace of options for network providers, giving customers the power of choice. These data centers usually offer blended bandwidth services, meaning they never have to rely on just one provider, giving them maximum availability. Another less common type of data center is carrier-centric. According to Gartner, carrier-centric data centers (such as Zayo) own local and/or long-haul fiber assets. These types of data centers are often run by telecom companies, so customers in these facilities don’t have a choice of network providers. However, some companies may choose carrier-centric facilities because they are looking for a data center in an area that is not fiber-rich. In these areas, the carrier’s data center may be the most reliable choice. These types of data centers may also offer network services that some carrier-neutral facilities do not. Bottom line: determine your network needs before narrowing down your data center location and selection of colocation providers.

3. Evaluate Connectivity

In addition to carrier diversity, companies must consider the types of connectivity they require for their data center footprint. If a company has multiple footprints, they may require connectivity between data centers. Companies with hybrid infrastructure models will desire direct connectivity to cloud providers. Not all providers will offer to arrange cross connects between offices and data centers as needed, and not all will offer connectivity to the cloud provider of your choice.

4. Evaluate Resiliency – Tiers Aren’t Everything

Just because some facilities boast a certain tier rating does not mean they all have the same resiliency. According to Gartner:

An in-depth understanding of the infrastructure in place and the policies and procedures of the data center may provide a better indication of likely resilience than a ‘Tier X-equivalent’ marketing label.

These labels often come with a price tag. Additionally, some companies claim to be Tier 3, 4, etc. without actually holding an official Uptime Institute or TIA certification, and would not actually meet the requirements to obtain one. All providers are different, regardless of the tier rating they have or claim to have. The best way to understand a data center’s infrastructure and the value that it provides your company is to visit it. Bring someone along who can help evaluate the facility with an engineer’s eye to decide how well the building’s infrastructure and staff procedures meet your needs. Gartner also recommends taking natural hazards and workloads into consideration when evaluating a facility’s resiliency. How much availability do the applications running in the facility really require, and what are the chances that certain disasters will occur in the areas where you are searching?

5. Explore Density Requirements

It is essential to understand your requirements for power and cooling per rack now and in the future before evaluating colocation providers. Once you have a range in mind, ask providers about their capacity to support your power, space, cooling, and rack weight requirements in order to know that the facility is designed to support your needs in an efficient manner both today and in the future. High-density data centers will normally have a deep subfloor (around 36+ inches between raised floor and subfloor), a chilled water cooling design, dedicated power feeds, isolated hot and cold aisles and high ceilings that allow for vertical exhaust ducts. Some facilities will support 4,000+ pounds per cabinet.

Co-locating in a data center that can support high density footprints is one of the best things a company can do to establish a future-proof deployment. In facilities that support less than 4 kW per cabinet, a company will have no choice but to occupy more space and more power circuits to meet their needs.

6. Determine Minimum Security Standards

Data center providers may meet a variety of compliance requirements, such as ISO, SSAE, PCI, HIPAA and others. Determine which requirements your organization must meet and understand your minimum security requirements. Tour the facilities at the top of your list and learn about the building’s physical security and security procedures. Ask about the processes in place in the event a security incident should occur. Are security staff on site 24x7x365? Are they direct hires of the colocation provider, or third-party contractors? If your company has special security requirements, it is also important to ask whether or not the provider allows companies to install custom security solutions in cages and cabinets. Determining your minimum security requirements ahead of time will help you move through the decision process more quickly.

7. What Other Services Are Available?

In many cases, what makes a data center provider stand out is their staff and the services offered. Some companies prefer a turnkey solution where they never have to enter the data center, while others want to be more involved in the management of their infrastructure. In addition to infrastructure services, some providers offer managed shipping and receiving, cloud, network and disaster recovery services, among others. Determine what services your company would like from a colocation provider, then evaluate the staff that is to provide the services. Are they outsourced to a third-party provider? Are they certified, experienced and responsive?

Want more information? Review Gartner’s framework for selecting a colocation provider.